More than two-dozen residents violently evicted from their homes in Borei Keila neighborhood in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh five years ago met the same fate on Tuesday when they attempted to reoccupy their old homes.
Several of the former residents suffered minor injuries when authorities from Phnom Penh’s 7 Makara district violently dispersed them from the old buildings left unlocked in the Borei Keila neighborhood.
The local authorities were reinforced by about 30 armed soldiers, who were sent to the area to prevent the mostly female former residents from occupying the Borei Keila buildings.
“I think the authorities do not employ any law,” Toeung Vichheka, one of the former residents, told RFA’s Khmer Service. “As a normal citizen, I don’t understand the laws … but if they are the authorities who understand the laws, why did they disperse us like this?”
District security chief Prak Hak blamed the former residents for the violence.
“My business is to protect this area, meaning that the [district] governor does not allow any of them to move in,” he said. “But they were persistent.”
Borei Keila is the scene of a notorious “land grab” by Cambodian authorities who violently evicted 384 families from the Phnom Penh neighborhood so the politically-connected firm Phanimex could build a commercial development.
‘I would rather die here’
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of unrest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
As part of a much ballyhooed slum upgrade program, Hun Sen granted the rights to develop Borei Keila to Phanimex in 2003 in exchange for building ten new apartment blocks to accommodate the 1,776 families who would be displaced.
Phanimex constructed only eight of the buildings, and on Jan 3, 2012 the homes of the 384 Borei Keila families were razed and the people were sent to Tuol Sambo and Phnom Bat, settlements that lie nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) outside of Phnom Penh.
Each evicted family was given a 4 meter by 5 meter plot of land but little else, and a life that is never easy for the poor in Cambodia became almost unbearable.
Khieu Lay, an evictee moved to the Phnom Bat community, told RFA that the evictees were sent to an area that lacks running water, markets, schools and hospitals.
She told RFA that 13 evictees died of diseases or starvation and two more are gravely ill. Many of the remaining evictees are destitute, with some forced to beg for a living, she added.
Khieu Lay said the Cambodian government can solve the issue by giving the evictees proper compensation so they can start a new life. She estimated that it would take $10,000 in cash and a proper land title to make a new start in Phnom Bat.
“Please help me! I have no choice! This is our last resort,” she said. “Even if I am being dispersed, fought or assaulted, or even being sent to jail, I would rather die here.”
Reported by Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.